“It is definitely a magic element of the show,” declares Tobias Menzies about how Netflix’s period drama “The Crown” portrays the British royal family in revealing and vulnerable moments that provide insight into these very public personalities.
“I felt instinctively that if it was too much a work of mimicry, that would be probably quite irritating to watch maybe for ten hours,” he jokes. “It was about getting a balance of getting close enough to them so that you feel like you are having breakfast with Phillip and the Queen.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Menzies above.
After two seasons in which “The Crown” focused on the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign as monarch, the series returned late last year with a new cast in the spotlight. Oscar winner Olivia Colman replaced Emmy winner Claire Foy as the Queen, Menzies replaced Matt Smith as Prince Phillip, Helena Bonham Carter replaced Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and a raft of new characters joined the fold as Oscar, Emmy and Tony-nominated showrunner Peter Morgan cast Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles and Erin Doherty as Princess Anne.
The cast just won the top drama ensemble prize for the first time earlier this year at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Menzies is also known for his dual roles of Frank and Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall in “Outlander” (which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Supporting Actor) as well as roles in HBO’s “Rome” and “Game of Thrones.” This year, for playing Prince Phillip, Menzies has already received Best Drama Actor nominations at both the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globe Awards.
While Menzies was conscious that replacing the entire cast was a big risk for the show, he believes that it appears to have paid off. “A lot of the credit has to go to the creative team, which has obviously been very consistent, in the very bold act of recasting everyone that could have definitely backfired,” he says. “Thankfully, it feels like we got the right balance between the old and new, which allows the audience to continue this story with us.”
The third season of “The Crown” explores a number of pivotal events of the 1960s and 1970s. It starts with Harold Wilson‘s election as prime minister in 1964 and ends with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. We also explore the 1969 investiture of Prince Charles and his early romantic relationship with Camilla Shand (soon to be Parker-Bowles), the disaster at Aberfan, Wales that tragically killed 116 schoolchildren, the deaths of the Duke of Windsor and Winston Churchill, as well as Princess Margaret’s affair with Roddy Llewellyn, her suicide attempt and her 1978 divorce from Antony Armstrong-Jones.
Menzies features prominently throughout season 3, particularly in the fourth episode (“Bubbikins”) in which we explore his troubled relationship with his mother Princess Alice (Jane Lapotaire) and then even more so in the seventh episode (“Moondust”). In that episode, the Apollo 11 moon landing triggers a suffocating existential discontent within Phillip that leads to him admitting his angst, dissatisfaction and inability to find calm and fulfillment in his life.
“The challenge with him is that he doesn’t really express his personal side a huge amount. He’s quite an armored person, so he will rarely be drawn into emotional statements or discussions of his personal life,” the actor explains. “And yet he does strike me as someone that does have a lot of emotion in him.”
“It straight away felt like a fascinating juxtaposition to take the moon landings and an exploration of Phillip into his character,” Menzies reveals. “At the heart of the performative challenge in an episode like that is where you are looking to delve into what is underneath all of that armor but you have a character who doesn’t want you to see it. It’s a really enjoyable and fruitful constriction.”
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